This chert eccentric is from the Classic Maya period, Guatemala. The artefact was found in the fill of an elite residential structure at the site of La Surficaya, a suburb of Holmul, the largest Mayan city in the region. The Classic period dates to ca. 1100-1750 BP.
The eccentric in this model is a disc-shaped biface with shallow notches equidistant around the perimeter. The biface was made by percussion and pressure flaking. It is a ‘cruciform’ type, and the notches may represent the four corners of the world, common in Mesoamerican symbolism. Four-sided ‘cosmogram’ designs are thought to symbolise the earthly world.
The artefact was recorded by a research team from the University of Alabama.
Eccentrics stone objects flaked into geometric shapes that are non-functional in nature. A wide variety of eccentrics were produced by the Mayan civilisation, beginning in the Late Formative period, ca. 1750-1850 BP; the Aztec civilisation also had a tradition of making eccentrics. These shapes included animals, insects, reptiles, humans, mythical beings, irregular shapes, crescents, tridents, and cosmological symbols for the sun, stars, and moon. Their precise meanings are unknown, but they likely were symbolic representations of gods or ancestors, or aspects of those beliefs. As such, they were likely elements of an ‘ancestor cult’ to justify the ruling elites’ bloodline and position of power in the society.
Eccentrics were made from chert or obsidian, materials sacred to the Maya, and ranged in size from ca. 20 mm to ‘macroliths’ measuring up to a metre long and weighing over 3 kg. Some eccentrics are masterfully manufactured through a combination of bifacial percussion and pressure flaking, whereas other appear quickly made by unifacially or bifacially retouching discarded blades or flakes. Some eccentrics are perforated with the centre of the hole enlarged, creating a ‘negative space’ inside the object. Mayan people also scratched engravings of gods onto the ventral surfaces of obsidian flakes found at Tikal.
Exceptionally ornate sceptre-like eccentrics were made during the Late Classic period, and are found at major Mayan sites. They were were made by specialist flintknappers. They depicted a face in profile wearing an elaborate headdresses with the smoking axe of K’awiil (symbolising lightning) emanating from its forehead. Secondary faces are often incorporated into extensions to the main face, and they sometimes hold serpents or other objects in their hands. These chert eccentrics are the most complex knapped forms ever made. In most cases the flintknappers first made very wide, thin bifaces and flaked-in the outlines by indirect percussion and pressure flaking.
Eccentrics are usually found as offerings in ritual contexts, often in caches of multiple eccentrics and other objects. The most common cache is a dedicatory offering deposited during the erection of a stone monument or construction of a building to imbue it with the essence of life. They were also deposited as ‘termination’ caches, marking the cessation of use of a building. Termination caches are often found on floors and were sometimes ritually ‘killed’ by breakage to release the life force within them. Eccentrics are sometimes found interred with burials. In Belize, ceramics were often used in dedicatory and termination offerings, but by the Late Classic period, ca. 1100-1400 BP, offerings were mainly composed of eccentrics.